J.J. Goldberg

Is Israel Safe Without Troops on Jordan River?

By J.J. Goldberg

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While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies insist that Israel must maintain military control over the Jordan River in order to make sure that hostile forces don’t cross over and turn a Palestinian state into a forward base for attacks on Israel, Israel’s main security professionals continue to argue that Israel can accept other security arrangements that would meet Palestinian objections and still fulfill Israel’s needs. But we don’t often hear them explaining how Israel could maintain its security without control of the river.

Yesterday retired brigadier general Ephraim Sneh spelled it out in an op-ed article on Yediot Ahronot’s Ynet Hebrew news site. I’ve translated it into English, below. He argues that the monitoring and control provided by a full military deployment can be maintained today from afar by new technological developments, and that together with the strong security cooperation that currently exists between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Israel can safely reduce its presence to a minimal level that would meet Palestinian objections.

Sneh was a leader of the Labor Party’s hawkish wing until he quit before the last elections to form his own party, Yisrael Hazaka, which failed to win a Knesset seat. He served in the past as minister of health and minister of transportation as well as two stints as deputy minister of defense. Before entering politics in 1987, he was a career soldier and served as commander of Israeli forces in Lebanon and military governor of the West Bank.

It’s worth noting that another former general, recently retired major general Gadi Shamni, has been arguing recently for a more gradual removal of Israeli troops from the river. In a recent Haaretz opinion essay he wrote that the handover of security control of the river crossings from Israeli to Palestinian security forces will take time, and a firm deadline can’t be set. It sounds on first read like an argument for Netanyahu’s position, but on closer examination it’s not very far from Sneh’s.

Shamni is a former chief of Central Command, as well as military secretary to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak and most recently Israeli military attaché in Washington.

Here’s Sneh:

A New Approach to the Jordan Valley

Technology and Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian security cooperation make it possible to reduce to a minimum the need for an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley within the framework of a peace agreement.

By Ephraim Sneh

I have always thought that a presence of the Israel Defense Forces along the length of the Jordan River had to be an essential security component in any arrangement with the Palestinians. The need to defend Israel from the east, and to ensure the demilitarization of the West Bank, made this necessary. Today, thanks to three developments, two of them technological and one substantive, it’s possible to protect these security needs in a manner that doesn’t conflict with the Palestinian desire for sovereignty, and hence prevent an agreement with them.

The first development is the ability of the IDF, which did not exist in the past, to identify very distant targets and destroy them with great precision. The second development is in the realm of biometric identification and computer database communication capabilities. It is possible today to locate terrorism suspects at airports and border crossings, check their data and arrest them within seconds.

The significance of these two technological developments is that it is possible to prevent any attempt to bring offensive weaponry from Jordan into the territory of the Palestinian state by means of precise and devastating strikes and similarly to attack any hostile deployment on the east bank of the Jordan, all without deploying armored IDF divisions along the length of the river. If need be, such a deployment can be accomplished within a few hours.

An additional significance is the capability that exists today to prevent the entry of terror operatives into the West Bank by quickly and precisely identifying them. Taking into account the ability to identify and impede hostile forces at distances of dozens of kilometers, along with the sophisticated monitoring capabilities at the border crossings, it is possible to reduce Israeli presence along the Jordan border to minimal dimensions that can be acceptable to the Palestinians.

But technology alone is not sufficient to design the new security reality necessary for Israel’s defense. The third development, the political one, is what makes possible a new security doctrine on Israel’s eastern border. What has become clear beyond any doubt in recent years is that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan share the same common enemies: global jihad, Salafi organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Hamas offshoot. Both collectively and individually they constitute a serious threat to the Hashemite kingdom, the Palestinian state and the state of Israel alike.

Recognition of the common enemy has yielded fruitful security cooperation both between Israel and Jordan and between Israel and the security forces of the Palestinian Authority. The political leaders both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority refuse to acknowledge this publicly for their own internal reasons. But in private discussions the heads of the Israel security praise the cooperation with Palestinian security. This cooperation is endangered by the declining prospects of a diplomatic settlement.

The committed Israeli opponents of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians brandish the old approach, which was valid in its day, of deploying IDF divisions along the Jordan as a necessary condition to any permanent settlement. They seek to impede an agreement by means of security arguments around which a broad national consensus can be justified.

By integrating the new IDF capabilities and intelligence systems into a tripartite Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian security coordination framework, it is possible to reach an agreement arrangement on the eastern border that will be secure for Israel and acceptable to its neighbors. An agreement based on shared existential interests of the three states is immeasurably more effective than the placement of foreign troops who are not defending their own homelands.


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